This month marks 15 years since the car accident, and it feels like a suitable time to revisit this blog with an update. I’m on the ferry heading to Vancouver from Victoria where Rox and I have been living for a couple years. The ferry is strangely empty and it’s almost spooky how quiet it is. It’s mid-day but the ocean and the sky are different shades of the same grey. I wonder if we inadvertently boarded a ghost ship, and if so, I hope the usual boarding announcements will be made by Captain Jack Sparrow, or at least someone who sounds like him.
It’s something of a loosely held tradition to go see my old stomping grounds each year to chat with the folks working in the Vancouver General Hospital Intensive Care and Trauma Special Care Units. Recently I’ve started bringing my car accident/hospital stay photo album to help them connect the dots of who I am now and which guy I was then. This year I’m also equipped with six dozen black Sonix Gel pens, the clicky kind, you know, because pen lids are a hassle and tend to go missing. In the ICU, good pens are cash money and today I’m making it rain.
Hospitals, to me, are like Club Med, an all-inclusive facility where everyday worries fade away, the room service is impeccable, and all you do is lay around and joke with the staff. My uncommon affinity for medical care facilities was reaffirmed three weeks ago at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. I was scheduled to have a malignant melanoma removed and a subsequent skin graft to close things up again. Melanomas are a type of cancer, and mine had been growing for five years. When the initial biopsy results returned positive for a superficial spreading melanoma, my first response was, “Really? That’s what we’re doing now? Of all the dumb luck…” My mind started tallying up the challenges I’ve had to endure, hitting me with the highlights: brain-damage, divorce, cancer. Life was constant maintenance work before cancer, and now I have to deal with that too?
Sometimes the fifteen years since the car accident feels like a fifteen-year streak of bad luck. It’s as if the car-accident released the floodwaters of stress, trauma, and pain into the canyon of my life. What was an adventurous journey on a steady current became a fight for survival down treacherous rapids. And sometimes I wish it would just let up, you know? Brain-damage, divorce, AND cancer? Enough, already.
The other day, as I was mulling over this latest tough break, a totally contradictory thought flashed in my mind – what if I’m actually one incredibly lucky sonofabitch? Well, ok, I thought, let’s see where this goes.
Okay, the first one, the car accident, is an easy one. The doctor’s gave me a 1 in 10 chance of survival, remember? There was a ninety percent chance I would die – ninety percent!! If I were a betting man, I’d go with the ninety percent odds, take my money, and run. But I’m not a betting man, I’m a lucky man, and beating the odds of survival is just the beginning.
The complexities of the brain mean a staggering variety of impairments can occur when the brain is injured. The damage to my brain was a severe amount, first from the impact of the truck hitting my side of the car, and later from my brain’s oxygen supply being cut off through three minutes of cardiac arrest. Yet my level of functioning baffled doctors early on and continues to today. I’ve become increasingly efficient at working around the biggest obstacles and even overcoming others. That kind of trajectory in recovery doesn’t happen everyday, but it happened to me.
Next, divorces are painful and difficult to go through, that’s a given, yet it doesn’t take much to see that mine was handled pretty well. Despite the inevitable challenges that arise in divorce, I know that care was taken to ensure that I was not unnecessarily burdened. We don’t chat or email often, but when we do there is still care and compassion. Some say amicable divorces are a myth, but my luck is mythical too.
Finally, of the four types of melanoma, superficial spreading melanoma is the most common and least invasive. In that sense, it’s not surprising that despite growing for five years, the tumour hadn’t appeared to have invaded my lymphatic system (even so, the sentinel node, the one closest to the melanoma, was removed along with the next two as a precaution). What is lucky about this whole experience is that, because of the pre-op paper work and post-op follow-ups, I needed a family doctor. The walk-in clinic doctor I usually see asked a colleague and she agreed to be my doctor. Do you know how hard it is to get a family doctor in Victoria right now? The odds aren’t great, I’ll tell you that.
In sum, I survive a car accident when I should have been written off along with my car, my brain is rewriting the textbooks (or at least this blog) on what brain damage means, the long-term effects of my divorce are negligible, I get the good kind of melanoma, and no longer have to wait at walk-in clinics.
Try finding someone who catches those kind of breaks. Good Luck.